More than cute: Max out your greenhouse space with dwarf pepper varieties

Departments - Edible Insights

Discovering micro-pepper cultivars and their potential in greenhouse vertical growing systems.

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August 17, 2021

As I walked the AmericanHort Cultivate‘21 tradeshow floor this past July — my first business trip and conference in more than eighteen months — my eyes scanned the booths seeking out tiny plants with enormous potential. Tiny edible plants, specifically, that make growing produce more accessible and successful for the indoor gardener. While micro-tomato cultivars have garnered the most focus in this area — and this was certainly evident by all the new micro-tomatoes at the show — I was excited to see new offerings of miniature pepper cultivars.

What do dwarf or micro-pepper cultivars for the hobby market have to do with commercial greenhouse production? Well, real estate is real estate, right? Space is always at a premium and yield per area is what it all comes down to. A challenge for those of you growing under glass or trying to expand your CEA’s offerings, is plant size and inputs. Fruiting plants, versus small leafy greens, are simply too big for many types of indoor controlled environments, not to mention more difficult to manage in terms of lighting and other resources. Larger crops also require a lot more labor when it comes to training them vertically, as well as lighting them properly. You can stack many racks of compact lettuces and leafy greens, but tomatoes and peppers? Not so much.

Peppers in greenhouse production are typically grown vertically, with two separate stems trained into an upright habit, much like vining tomatoes. While they don’t reach the heights that vining tomatoes do, nor need to be angled as many tomatoes are, they can still have a sizable vertical profile. And you can’t really pull the brittle stems down as you grow and harvest, like you can with tomatoes.

Most growers who are growing peppers under glass are strictly growing standard bell peppers. But with the growing popularity of hot and sweet peppers of all types, shapes and colors, you might be missing out on potential profits if you stick only to bells. Could dwarf and miniature cascading types of spicy peppers offer you both diversification and space-saving solutions without sacrificing yield?

Small peppers proved to be a big hit at this year’s Cultivate’21 event in Columbus, Ohio.
PHOTO © fusolino | ADOBE STOCK

Petite pepper player

At the Cultivate‘21 show, I was particularly impressed with the Prudac booth (http://prudac.com/), which was filled to the brim with their latest micro-tomato and micro-pepper varieties. In fact, they cornered the market on new dwarf edibles, having more than any other vendor at the show. I was instantly drawn in by their unique tiny tomato series, including tabletop Heartbreaker series, Sweet Sturdy series, the itty bitty Ponchi series, and the Pillar series for micro-trellising. PanAmerican Seed also had an impressive display of their new micro-tomatoes at the show. All these tiny tomatoes are not only perfect for the home grower market, but also offer super space-saving solutions for anyone wanting to get into the tomato game in smaller controlled environments.

Prudac also brought serious mini-pepper game, offering cascading basket types and compact narrow-growing peppers for trellising, with a mixture of sweet and spicy varieties. Their Peppers from Heaven series offers plants with a lush cascading growth habit; with plant height ± 15-25 cm / 6-10” and width ± 15-30 cm / 6-12”. Red and orange cultivars are currently available. These plants could make excellent options for hanging or other types of vertical hydro production. I was also intrigued by their Ponky Pepper ‘Spicy Jane,’ which they claim stays under 15 cm / 6” but can trail or train to a width of 60 cm / 24”. Now, Prudac states on their site that Ponky Peppers aren’t yet available in North America, but hopefully that will change.

But it was their slim-growing Pillar Peppers series that really had me doing a double take. These small, narrow, but sturdy little peppers appear to offer good production with less labor and space. Pillar Peppers seem perfect for high density culture and small pots (both for commercial production and home hobby growing). A series within a series, the Pillar Pepper Galaxy series offers red, orange and yellow cultivars with a mild spicy taste, with plants growing less than 20-25 cm / 8-10” tall and wide. All the dwarf peppers I inspected at the show appeared fruit-heavy with minimal branching.

If you’re a small grower with minimal space, and you’d like to branch out from leafy greens into fruits, miniature peppers could be a suitable place to start. Given that peppers are typically easier to grow — specifically more heat- and drought-tolerant — than tomatoes (not to say peppers growing in controlled environments don’t have their common issues), they might be a safer starter crop if you aren’t already growing or experienced with tomatoes.

Growing bigger profits in the new year just might mean growing small and spicy!

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com